2016 champs Mississippi State ended their stay in Hoover with Friday’s elimination round loss to Florida. Not just the stay ended sooner than planned; so did the game. When the Gators pushed a run across in the top of the seventh inning it made a 12-2 and invoked the ten-run rule if the Bulldogs could not answer.
They didn’t. Florida leftfielder Danny Reyes ran down a sinking drive by 1B Nathaniel Lowe to strand Bulldog PH Hunter Stovall at third base and end the evening. Florida (46-12) survived to qualify for the SEC Tournament semifinals where they meet LSU tomorrow.
The only small solace for Mississippi State (41-16-1) was they weren’t the only run-ruled team Friday. Earlier Texas A&M scored twice in the bottom of the seventh to end a 13-3 win over Vanderbilt. No, it wasn’t much compensation for the regular season champions to go home after three games and on such a dominated note.
“It’s embarrassing,” 3B Gavin Collins said.
The Bulldogs spent much of the evening watching the embarrassment build. After both teams knocked out a first-inning run, the Gators got to State starter RHP Austin Sexton in a bigger way. Florida used five singles, all bouncers through a frustrated infield, to drive in a run at a time. Almost, a run at a swing.
For Sexton (7-3) it was a grueling game from the moment leadoff Gator Buddy Reed bounced a base hit between his feet. Florida’s first run did come on an extra-base knock as JJ Schwarz doubled him in. The rest of the ten total Gator hits off Sexton were all singles. Most, of the seeing-eye variety.
“It kind of snowballed on him,” Cohen said.
The irony was Sexton had started a game-two Bulldog win at Florida, one of the regular season’s pivotal points in State making its championship run. This time the Gators attacked, puts balls in play, and worked on around the paths as if following a script. And no matter how the infielders were positioned, bouncers went elsewhere.
“I felt Austin wasn’t as bad as the number indicated,” Cohen said. “Of the first 12 ground balls he gave up eight were hits. We just weren’t standing in the right spots, that’s how the game works sometimes.”
Sexton worked 4.1 innings with seven runs charged, six of them earned. He only walked one Gator but his strikeouts were way down with just a trio of fannings.
Further irony, was this game also rematched moundsmen. Florida put righthander Alex Faedo on the mound, with his 11-1 record and 102 strikeouts. For all the other success though, that one defeat…had been to Mississippi State. So the Bulldogs had some justified confidence about doing it again.
Especially so in the first inning when they responded to Florida’s opening run. With two outs, first 1B Nathaniel Lowe and then Collins drove doubles to the wall for a tied game. Faedo followed with a two-out walk as well.
But a flyout by LF Cody Brown, starting so State could get more left-side swingers in the order, held the tie. From there Faedo just did the essentials to keep the Bulldogs under control. He did not dominate, much less overpower with five strikeouts and a couple of walks. But Faedo did minimize damage and strand two Dogs in both the second and third turns.
“I thought we really put good swings on him,” Cohen said. “We didn’t have much to show for it and to his credit he kept battling.” Faedo (12-1) was able to go the shortened route with the two runs on seven hits.
A rare Sexton walk to open the fourth became a 5-1 lead as Schwarz singled in Nelson Mandonado. In the fifth a throwing error by SS Ryan Gridley led to a RBI-single from Danny Reyes. The Bulldogs at last matched that run in the same frame as Mangum was plunked, got to third base on a DH Jack Kruger double, and scored off a Lowe grounder.
But Florida more than trumped it with a four-run sixth. Schwarz tripled off RHP Paul Young, and scored when C Elih Marrero’s pickoff throw went wild. LHP Kale Breaux was scored on twice with wild pitches and a RBI-double from Reyes.
With things out of hand and the run rule looming Cohen and Wes Johnson used the remaining outs to work Keegan James and Konnor Pilkington in advances of NCAA play. State wanted to extend the game long enough to let OF Reid Humphreys get an inning, too.
But after Stovall led off the last-chance with a single and got to third base on a passed ball and wild pitch, there was that chance. How badly State wanted it was the other question as Mangum and Kruger were both batted for, by Mike Smith and Cole Gordon with strikeouts of each.
Schwarz was the hitting hero, 4-of-5 with four RBI and a run and missing the cycle by a homer. Three more Gators had a pair of hits with 14 total. Lowe was 2-of-4 for State with a run and RBI as the Dogs mustered seven hits.
“Florida was excellent, they deserved to win the game,” said Cohen. “And they will be a very good team in post-season, especially playing in Gainesville.”
The Gators are conceded as a national seed for the upcoming tournament and an odds-on pick to make Omaha if they get everyone healthy. They played without star first baseman Peter Alonso down the stretch and at Hoover. And the SEC’s top pitcher, Logan Shore, has yet to throw in the tournament with stomach woes.
Mississippi State is all-but-officially going to host a first-round Regional as well. A national seeding could be a closer call after going 1-2 in the SEC tourney, not because of losses to LSU and Florida so much as how LSU and Ole Miss have made runs to the semifinals and are in the same RPI range.
Everyone will have to wait until Monday’s announcement of the full 64-team field to know who got one of the coveted eight national seeds. The 16 first round hosts will be announced Sunday evening at 7:30ct on the NCAA’s site.